Legally Speaking


The ‘Castle of Spite’ and a Vengeful Inheritance

The ‘Castle of Spite’ and a Vengeful Inheritance

What would you do if your late husband’s family contested your entitlement to his fortune? Sit down with them and discuss it? Quietly move away to another country, never to be seen again? Or use the money to build a castle that dominates the landscape and blocks your stepson’s views?

You may have chosen to talk it out, but Mary Caroline, Duchess of Sutherland, took the third option upon the death of her husband, George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland.

Who is the Duchess of Sutherland?

The Duchess of Sutherland was more commonly known as ‘Duchess Blair’ because her first marriage was to another rich and powerful gentleman, Captain Arthur Kindersely Blair of the 71st Highland Light Infantry.

Her Wikipedia profile states that she is known for her, quote, ‘scandalous marriage’. But one is not sure which marriage the tag refers to. Her first husband died in a mysterious shooting accident. Although it was officially determined to be above suspicion, there were whispers that it could have been either a murder or suicide.

It must also be noted that she was embroiled in a secret affair with her second husband, the Duke, at the time of her first husband’s death. He was one of the wealthiest men in Britain and owned a staggering 1.4 million acres of land. One could say that he was an attractive prospect.

Mary Caroline, Duchess of Sutherland

A Scandalous Marriage

Unsurprisingly, Duchess Blair caused quite a scandal when she married the Duke only four months after the Duke’s wife also died in mysterious circumstances. That’s quite a few coincidental deaths.

It wouldn’t have been such a scandal if Queen Victoria herself didn’t staunchly disapprove. The quick wedding flew in the face of the required one-year minimum for a widow to mourn before remarrying. Queen Victoria even sent a letter expressing her misgivings, but The Duchess and her Duke ignored them.

At this stage, Duchess Blair had all the money in the world, but in light of the Queen’s disapproval, she did not have much social standing. This can only assume that this left a particularly bad taste in her mouth.  

Another Husband Dies

You may not be surprised to learn that only three years after her marriage to the Duke, he died too. The last one standing, Blair was due to inherit the lot, but the Duke’s son from his first marriage, Cromartie Sutherland-Levenson-Gower, wasn’t having any of it. He initiated a legal battle, but the Duchess was one step ahead. She gathered all of the relevant documents and burned them.

Unfortunately for the Duchess, the Judge found this act to be illegal. He rounded her up and put her in jail for six weeks. Enough time, one would think, for Mary Caroline to learn her lesson.

Enough Money Left for a Castle

You’ve probably already guessed that jail time didn’t suppress the Duchess. Indeed, in the finalised judgment, Mary received enough fortune to build her own castle even though the documents were in cinders.

They only had one stipulation – that the castle not be built on Sutherland family land or be visible to the main road or railway line, lest it ruin their view when travelling.

The Castle of Spite 

The Carbisdale Castle was built between 1905 and 1917, but even though it wasn’t officially on the family land, it sat upon a hillside and dominated the landscape from every angle.

The one side of the clocktower facing Sutherland land was left without a clock in a deliberate snub to her late husband’s family. She did not want to give them the time of day.

With its obnoxious placement and clocktower without a clock, one doesn’t have to guess why it was nicknamed the ‘Castle of Spite’.

Who Owns the Castle Now? 

The colourful Duchess Blair died in 1912. Since then, the castle has seen several incarnations but was most recently run as a youth hostel. The current owner bought the property in 2016 and renovated it.

What of the castle now? Well, it’s up for sale. That’s right; you can own the ‘Castle of Spite’ for 1.2m pounds. Not a bad price for a partially-renovated castle with some of the best views in Scotland.

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).

# Note: Featured is Aerial photography (drone) of Carbisdale Castle.
Photo attributed to Anthony Round

The Heir Hunters – What does a Probate Genealogist Do?

The Heir Hunters – What does a Probate Genealogist Do?

A probate genealogist is a detective. What are they investigating, you ask? They’re looking for the rightful recipients of the estates of people who have died with no known heirs.

You may think that it should be easy to find the family members of a deceased person. However, family trees are complicated. Although it may seem tempting to tackle the search yourself, the legal process of finding the correct recipients should fall to those who are qualified.

The probate genealogist performs in-depth research on the family tree of the deceased person. Eventually, they’re able to determine and locate the heirs. This kind of detective work is similar to solving a crime. It requires meticulous attention to detail and knowledge of the relevant legalities. The hunt for an heir is an exciting occupation.

Will vs Probate

Probate Genealogy is a legal field. As such, there are several legal terms used that need clarification. Let’s clear things up.

You’ve probably heard of the terms probate and will when discussing inheritance, but although often used in the same sentence, they are two different concepts.

What is the difference between a will and probate? A will is a legal document written up by a person determining who their estate goes to. Probate refers to all of the paperwork and processes associated with the administration of the estate.

Two other valuable terms are testate and intestate. Not common vocabulary, the meanings are simple enough. Testate refers to the execution of an existing will. Intestate refers to the execution of an estate with no existing will.

A Day in the Life of an Heir Hunter

With sites like, the field of family tree research is an increasingly popular hobby. Many people spend hours exploring their ancestry, often finding fascinating details about their family and long-distant relatives they didn’t know they had. Comparatively, the field of probate genealogy isn’t something anyone can do.

A probate genealogist’s job is complicated and intricate. Colloquially referred to as ‘heir hunters’, the role involves extensive research. It is specialist work and often requires access to records only open to those with the legal right to search them.

The probate genealogist’s work is also international. Families move and settle in new countries. People forget to update their addresses and contact details. Passports expire. Government databases become invalid.

You may assume that people would be easy to track down with the prevalence of social media. However, often this isn’t the case. This is where the probate genealogist and their research expertise become invaluable. A professional knows where to look when the evidence is sparse.

Research of this nature takes years to perfect. It requires knowledge of how to locate historical records, interpret them, and then bring together the case to locate an individual who doesn’t know someone is looking for them.

The Ethics of Heir Hunting 

Although probate specialists are experts in their field, there’s been a spate of amateurs who have offered their services to unsuspecting people. Occasionally they are fraudulent and charge unreasonable fees. At other times, they are well-intentioned but ill-qualified. Either way, when tracking down the rightful heirs of an estate, one must secure the services of a professional.

Not sure who to hire? This is the time to do some research of your own. Check that the genealogist is qualified and belongs to the relevant professional bodies. Make sure that you feel comfortable that this person genuinely knows what they’re doing and are likely to reunite estates with their rightful owners.

The Rewards of Heir Hunting 

The life of an heir hunter is not just exciting but rewarding. Not only do probate genealogists spend their days investigating family history all over the world, but they have the personal satisfaction of doing the right thing. It’s not just about vast estates and inheritances worth a fortune. Helping to locate family members who have the right to unclaimed estates is a high reward.

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).